At some point during last week’s staggeringly multifaceted D23 Expo in Anaheim, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Chairman Tom Staggs introduced a trailer for “The Imagineering Story,” a new feature-length documentary by Academy Award-nominated director Leslie Iwerks, who previously helmed “The Pixar Story” and “Industrial Light & Magic: Creating the Impossible.” While the movie won’t be released until 2016, the footage from D23 has emerged online. And even though we got to spend some time in the California parks during D23, the trailer makes us want to go back. Like right now.
Based on the footage from the trailer, the movie looks like it’s going to cover a whole lot of ground. From the creation of WED Imagineering, as it was originally known, as a kind of off-the-books research and development arm of the Disney empire, to the initial design and construction of the risky Disneyland, to Walt’s grand designs for EPCOT, not as a continuous World’s Fair exhibit of pavilions but as a self-sustaining city of tomorrow, and then where the company has gone since then—to theme parks worldwide, a fleet of state-of-the-art cruise ships, and whatever the resort in Hawaii is (we’re still not sure about that).
And while the teaser hints that the documentary will chronicle the “challenges” of Imagineering (such as Disney’s California Adventure, which had a number of problems initially but has grown into a robust experience that rivals Disneyland itself), we wonder how far the documentary will go. Will it talk about the disarray the company found itself in after Walt died? What about the failed WestCOT and Disney’s America parks? And despite one Imagineer’s claims that the company is in a “renaissance,” will it be discussed how no project moves forward anymore unless it’s tied to some preexisting property or brand? (This is why Space Mountain, when it opens at the new Shanghai park, will be tethered to “TRON.” Yes, seriously.) Time will tell how much dirt these Imagineers will dig up.
Iwerks is the daughter of Ub Iwerks, an animator and co-creator of both Mickey Mouse and Oswald the Rabbit, whose previously documentaries have illuminated the tech-heavy worlds of computer animation and visual effects in an easygoing but never dumbed down way. And man, her documentaries are slick, slick, slick.
If you’re wondering why the movie isn’t coming out until 2016, it’s probably so the documentary has a chance to include some of the amazing upcoming projects from Imagineering, chief among them the Shanghai Disneyland park but also including the construction of the new “Ratatouille”-themed dark ride in Disneyland Paris (that features a “trackless” ride vehicle that glides through environments), the “Star Wars” overlay of both Disneyland’s Tomorrowland section of the park and a large swath of Disney’s Hollywood Studios (in Florida), and the ongoing battle of getting the “Avatar” land up and running in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. By 2016, the new park in South America will have probably been announced too, so artwork and preliminary ideas could be included in the documentary.
Whenever it lands in 2016, we’ll be watching. Probably with our mouse ears on. [Thompson On Hollywood]